A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
eSports is not a Sport
eSports is not a Sport

eSports is not a Sport

Whenever I read other editorials from other writers, I always check to see one thing: Are they going to compare their idea and issues with eSports to the success of professional national mainstream athletic sports? In some cases, they do, in others; they’ve come to approach eSports more as a spectacle or something similar as WWF or UFC. It’s more of an event than an actual sport. Overall, I feel that comparing eSports to professional mainstream sports can be a poor perspective that ultimately narrows potential and shapes it to be something it cannot feasibly become (but may be something even more).

In some parts, eSports is just like Sports. Forbes and Dustin Browder took the words right out of my mouth:

“These guys are athletes. There’s physical and mental conditioning to it. These guys are, in many cases, playing 12 hours a day to prepare for these matches, or even just constantly. These guys are training as hard as a regular athlete would to train for these things. They have to have the dedication and enthusiasm for it, and there’s a lot of coaching that goes on as well. A lot of these guys have coaches and are parts of teams. They create a culture of support around them so they can learn to master the game. What good are you if you can’t practice against somebody who’s great? So these guys create teams of people where they’re all really good, they practice against each other constantly, and they compete against other teams.

This allows them to create this sport atmosphere where they work as hard as any regular athlete, and try as hard. They have to have the psychology and mental endurance. You see these guys when they lose a match; they are crushed, just like an Olympic hopeful would be crushed if he didn’t make it. They’ve got to have the endurance to overcome that and say, “Yeah, I lost the biggest match of my career, but I’m not done. I’m going to come back and overcome this,” and sometimes they do. It’s just absolutely amazing the trials, tribulations, and challenges these guys face every day.”

(Dustin Browder interviewed by John Gaudiosi, Forbes, 2013)

In truth, the game(s) and the competitors who dedicate their lives to entertain us, the spectators, are athletes. Perhaps not physically from head-to-toe but their dedication, work and practice ethics, and approach to the game is comparable to that of sports. They are participants of a very competitive game and play for their careers, to remain an emphasized competitor ahead of the strategic curve. These acknowledgements lead me to understand the subculture of eSports on a three-level system (granted, this is a simplified model where we ignore a lot of involved parties, especially on the business end):

Three levels of E-Sports[Click to Enlarge]

The three levels are nearly all dependent on the community and drive. Both the games and Pro Gamers are on the core circle of Competitive Gaming: competitive gaming being without the spectators or much of a news media following. Essentially, it’s just the game, the players and the small community who were active or involved in the organizing of competitions. As we step further out into the second-level, we start introducing the large following of communities such as Team Liquid, the sub-reddits as well as large-scale events to connect further these online communities into a gaming expo-like setting.

This is eSports. eSports is a spectacle to dress and curtain the core of the game and competition. The atmosphere is what is the most appealing for events such as IGN’s Pro League, North-American Star League finals and Major League Gaming which helps add flair and life to something that occurs within computer systems. The roaring fans and the enthusiastic and excited commentators are areas that help emphasize and improve the excitement of what goes in the game. These elements are found within mainstream sports and are why we title competitive gaming as eSports.

eSports Population Activity is an overview of how popular, active and worthwhile is eSports for these companies. It takes into account of the core game, its active teams and Pro Gamers, leagues and events as well as growth of community websites. I titled EPA as a global measurement to help identify just how popular and strong this subcultures growth is. For some games such as Tribes: Ascend and Street Fighter x Tekken, their EPA has been greatly reduced despite numerous attempts at trying to improve it (this could be for a variety of issues). Team Fortress 2, also a popular competitive game, is not as popularly viewed as Counter-Strike for other reasons. Their EPA is low and thus perhaps why companies aim to not acknowledge, improve or work towards changing that (because it isn’t realistically feasible for the company’s resources to devote towards or maybe because the company sees other more profitable ways to take advantage of their video-game product).

We call competitive gaming “eSports” because it summarizes and eases outsiders into the idea of e-athletes. Even if someone had no idea what playing video-games at a competitive level was or what it entailed, these tournament events are gaming expositions that help show the appeal of watching someone do something better than you (better technique, strategy, approach, etc). The importance of the atmosphere mimicking that of Football stadiums or Hockey rinks is the ultimate goal and titling eSports as a sport helps push the idea further (sports is a subject nearly everyone can identify, understand and easily associate the interest of it).

So why isn’t eSports a sport? You have the athletes and you have the mimicked atmosphere (just on a smaller scale). What prevents it from being that of sports? Because the game changes. The core game mechanics improve, change, and are biased towards one side or another. In StarCraft, you have three asymmetrical races that have their pros and cons, in ARTS games such as Dota, you have a multitude of heros that interact with one another differently. For FPS games, a variety of guns also means countless approaches towards taking down your opponent. These varied factors help keep the game fresh, new and entertaining. It displays unlimited possibilities that surpass that of sports on a basic ruled level.

Because video-game(s) can change so much, be improved and become visually stunning, the possibilities to innovate it makes it better than mainstream sports. The way these games are accessed and the tools used to better spectate each match and provide insightful information for viewers and commentators alike surpass that of mainstream sports.

However, the level of understanding for E-Sport games requires a little bit more. When I wrote my article “What Makes an E-Sport”, I noted the importance of being able to demonstrate skill and add thrill for the spectator within a game:

“It must be thrilling to watch. Despite the limitations of development in the past, games such as StarCraft: Brood War, Counter-Strike: 1.6, Quake 3 and DotA were still exciting to watch. Excitement is key to an E-Sport and that excitement must be both innate as well as injected from the viewer’s perspective. Some games are less challenged by this first point than others. Fighting games for example are much easier to showcase and spectacular to watch than first-person shooters.”

The reality is that eSports will always be a “you’re either in or you’re out” sort of pond and because most current adults have grown being out of video-games or not as competitively involved with it, most are definitely out. However, as the digital age encompasses more generations and old values start to shrink, the accessibility and acceptance of video-games and potentially E-Sports is bound to expand.

One area we did ignore in this piece is the relationship of sports with the NFL in comparison to that of Blizzard, RIOT and Valve who need to prioritize both the growth of this subculture as well as maintain their dedication to what really sells and adds value to these products. Because E-Sports relies on the products of gaming development companies, not all changes could be interpreted as needed or beneficial for the scene. It’s a difficult thing for gaming companies who aim to really maintain their devotion to E-Sports, but also towards their varying fans. This was discussed a bit in my article “The Overabundance of Tournaments & Branching Problems” but could definitely be further looked into.

To summarize, eSports is not necessarily sports, but is an accurate term to help the general public understand what eSports composes of. I designated it to be more like the WWF and UFC because of how new these competitions are as well as the fact that it aims to both entertain and compete. Video-games are entertainment and eSports also needs to be entertaining to maintain its niche audience interest. How this interest be reinvented can only be told as more investments flow into the idea and as more game development companies become involved or determined to sell their game as an E-Sport.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *